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growing Dwarf Moringa in pots

 
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I planted several seeds of 'dwarf moringa' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds late last winter.  They've been outside all spring and summer and we've been eating the leaves both raw in salads and cooked with other vegetables regularly for most of that time.  The leaves are delicious and never seemed too large to eat on these small 'bushes'.  

I just recently moved the pots into our hoop house as we had some cooler nights. Now that it's warmed up again though, they are even happier.  I cut one back and it has already sent out a lot of new growth.  I think I'll cut a couple more back severely and maybe bring one or two into the house for the winter...our winters are unpredictable and I don't think the hoop house will keep them warm enough.  I plan to bury them in straw and the ends of the hoop house will be closed in by then...I'm just not sure how much cold they can take.

Over the summer, while they were outside and because they were in pots, I watered them a lot and once or twice with fish emulsion and more than that with watered down urine (whenever some of the leaves would yellow).  The one time I watered with fish emulsion in the hoop house, a raccoon came in the night and dug into all seven pots...they survived but it was a big mess...

They are certainly tougher than I originally thought...just not sure how to help them survive winter here.  
I might even try growing them as an annual since they grew so well over the summer and they were easy to germinate.

Anyone else growing this variety in pots?  There was no genus and species on the package so I wonder if it's not really a special 'dwarf' variety but just has that ability to be cut back drastically and thrive?
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Moringa tends to be somewhere between a zone 9 to 10b. 10b means no frost. When it gets below 70f it usually doesn't like it. Keep it from freezing if you can.

This is a tree you have to 'bonsai' to keep it smaller. Potting it and trimming it, encouraging it to not turn into a 20' tall tree, and yes you can bring it in and winter it. Mulching them in may help. The hoop will help some. Your best bet is to bring some in as it seems you're planning to do.
 
Judith Browning
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Deb Rebel wrote:Moringa tends to be somewhere between a zone 9 to 10b. 10b means no frost. When it gets below 70f it usually doesn't like it. Keep it from freezing if you can.

This is a tree you have to 'bonsai' to keep it smaller. Potting it and trimming it, encouraging it to not turn into a 20' tall tree, and yes you can bring it in and winter it. Mulching them in may help. The hoop will help some. Your best bet is to bring some in as it seems you're planning to do.



Thanks Deb...I think I can keep them from freezing unless we get a rare super cold winter but I just had this thought about a frost...is it when there is actually 'frost' on something or just air temp low thirties?  I think I'll just spread them out, leave some in the hoop buried in straw, a couple in the back room and a couple in the front sunny window and see what happens.

...and order some more seed just in case.
 
Deb Rebel
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Sounds like that would cover everything then, and see what works.

I tried a Chayote this year, it's a 150 day minimum zone 9b and though our fall is being late, no blooms at all. I built a fantastic trellis for it too, it did get itself up there, but didn't grow as well as I hoped.

So in the spirit of trying to push your grow zone limits, may you do well.
 
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Moringa  loves the zones Deb mentioned.

In Arkansas you need either a hoop house with a doubled covering so there is an air layer between the layers or frost blankets and straw mulching up the trunk, especially in our mountains.

Zones colder than zone 7a need indoor cultivation to overwinter.


Judith, are you growing these for the leaves as food? they are an amazing nutritional green.
The best nutritional values come from 2 year and older trees and they take coppicing supper well since once the root system is established they grow quite quickly.
You can cook them just like you would fresh beans or even greens.

Redhawk
 
Judith Browning
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Judith, are you growing these for the leaves as food? they are an amazing nutritional green.
The best nutritional values come from 2 year and older trees and they take coppicing supper well since once the root system is established they grow quite quickly.
You can cook them just like you would fresh beans or even greens.



Definitely for food...as I said above, we've been eating the leaves all spring and summer both raw in salads and added to rice and cooked vegetables.  We love the taste and want to keep growing them even if I have to start new seed each year.  I've been cutting them back to harvest but realized I could do that more heavily and they bounce right back...at least while it's this warm.

I probably won't try to double up the cover on the hoop...will probably cut them back drastically and in the end bring them all in...I have a lot of straw to cover but who knows what this winter will be like?  Might leave one out there as a test...even dig into the ground maybe.

I hadn't heard that two year old trees have more nutrition in their leaves.  thanks...
 
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This is very encouraging!
I has always wanted such trees but was discouraged by the zone issues.
I wouldn't even mind rather big trees indoors, nice decor.
Would artificial lighting be needed?
 
Judith Browning
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William Bronson wrote: This is very encouraging!
I has always wanted such trees but was discouraged by the zone issues.
I wouldn't even mind rather big trees indoors, nice decor.
Would artificial lighting be needed?



I'm going to try without artificial light although I bet they would love it.  I've had them in a fairly sunny spot outdoors all summer and now full sun in the hoop house.  Looks like they thrive on the heat and light.  I hope I can cut back the ones I bring indoors and they'll go dormant for a bit and then recover again when I put them back in the hoop...then in the yard.  I think it sounds like a lot of moving around but I discovered that our dolly works great for rearranging big potted plants.  Just one big experiment  

If the leaves didn't taste so good I probably wouldn't go to so much trouble...

Now, I have my toona sinensis seeds in some coir stratifiying in the door to the refrigerator....that tree should be able to grow outside here...doesn't sound as tasty though...'burnt onions' flavor leaves?
 
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Judith Browning wrote:I hope I can cut back the ones I bring indoors and they'll go dormant for a bit and then recover again when I put them back in the hoop



Moringa goes dormant for about 5 mins when you prune it.
I've germinated these on a windowsill and then put them outside in the ground. When I've left it more than a few days indoors they grow tall and straggly I guess suffering from lack of light. I'd advise giving them as much light as poss. Maybe after multiple haircuts the growth will calm down a bit and could be ok indoors. Let the soil dry out between waterings.
 
Judith Browning
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Steve Farmer wrote:

Judith Browning wrote:I hope I can cut back the ones I bring indoors and they'll go dormant for a bit and then recover again when I put them back in the hoop



Moringa goes dormant for about 5 mins when you prune it.
I've germinated these on a windowsill and then put them outside in the ground. When I've left it more than a few days indoors they grow tall and straggly I guess suffering from lack of light. I'd advise giving them as much light as poss. Maybe after multiple haircuts the growth will calm down a bit and could be ok indoors. Let the soil dry out between waterings.



hahaha...that's what I noticed when I cut back the one in the third picture above...I thought it would set it back and I think it took about a day to notice buds forming.  That pic is in less than a week.  I was hoping once it cools down they won't be so peppy?

so, less water and I'll stop feeding them over the winter.

I'm trying a cutting from what I pruned off of the trunk...it is making little white spots on the surface of the cutting that is under water.  Not even sure this is possible but it's doing something?

Lucky that you have the climate to grow them outdoors... thanks for the information.
 
Deb Rebel
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Judith Browning wrote:

I'm trying a cutting from what I pruned off of the trunk...it is making little white spots on the surface of the cutting that is under water.  Not even sure this is possible but it's doing something?



Those are root callouses. It is heading in the right direction. Some things water propagate, from softwood (that is what your cutting would be considered)
 
William Bronson
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Well one person's burnt is another person's caramelized .
Good luck with toon!
 
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Over the summer, while they were outside and because they were in pots, I watered them a lot and once or twice with fish emulsion and more than that with watered down urine (whenever some of the leaves would yellow).  The one time I watered with fish emulsion in the hoop house, a raccoon came in the night and dug into all seven pots...they survived but it was a big mess...



Thanks for that tip. I have several coon baits for my 'live' traps, now I have 1 more. The coons get to live until I get up and shoot them with my pellet gun.
 
Judith Browning
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I've left two plants (cut back severely, but when it warms for a few days they start sending out shoots) in the hoop house through a few drops into the low twenties and they look OK so far...I've been covering with straw and then a big pot those nights when it gets below freezing.

The ones indoors I also cut back and quit watering and then put under a bench in a colder part of the room.  Next thing I knew they were sending out these shoots reaching for some light so they are now on top of the bench and looking pretty pale.  They just don't want to go dormant
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Judith Browning
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update...

None of my moringas survived the winter, neither those in the house nor the ones in the hoop house.

We love the leaves well enough though that I bought packets of seed from baker creek again and just planted them as annuals...we are eating the trimmings already and expect to have  some fresh leaves right up until first frost.  I did plant a few in the hoop house hoping they would root deeply enough to survive.  Last winter was the coldest in a long time...I think they might survive a more 'normal' winter here with protection.  It is inexpensive seed with great germination so worth some experimenting.
 
William Bronson
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Thanks for the update!
What do you think killed the ones in the house?
It seems like it might be worth using artificial light,  air pruning pots, sub irritating planters or some combination  of all three to over winter and propagate this tree.

Are you going to let them go to seed this year?
 
Judith Browning
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Thanks William,
I've been trying to get away from a lot of plants in the house over the winter so was hoping these would squeak by if I just kept them from freezing.  I probably killed them be cutting back the new growth one too many times?  Some of the 'sprouts' just keeled over and died on their own though.  The hoop house ones were easier to tell what killed them...too many nights of temps in the teens and lower.

I think you're right about some artificial light...they just didn't grow right with a little winter sun in the window.

I should mark a plant for seed and not do any pruning just in case it might make seed.  I'm not sure our season is long enough though.
The toona sinensis I mentioned above was a total fail by the way...not one seed germinated and I think it might have been my source and old seed.  I want to try it again though.
 
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Judith Browning wrote:
I think you're right about some artificial light...they just didn't grow right with a little winter sun in the window.



I would suggest a LED lightbulb.  Just a regular LED floodlight bulb you can buy from Home Depot or Lowe's.  They are incredibly energy efficient and work just as well (if not better) as commercial LED plant lights.
 
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I bought a bag of moringa seeds and planted them in pots indoors a month ago, and realized too late about how fast they grow seeking light and they got scraggly. Transplanted into 6 inch pots for each of a dozen, and then had 108F temps this last weekend and now 3 appear to be surviving. Planting outdoors to start would have been better, especially in the normally mild zone 12 here.

After the third set of leaves appear on the initial stem, I've read that you should cut the terminal bud which will encourage more shoots, and after it grows another 6-8 inches you trim it back by one bud/leaf pair, repeating this a few times. Otherwise they grow tall and spindly.

I've also read that Moringa get long tap roots, so I'm tempted to transplant healthy starts into the ground where I want them ASAP and surround with rabbit protection so they can properly develop early on.
 
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Judith Browning wrote:
I should mark a plant for seed and not do any pruning just in case it might make seed.  I'm not sure our season is long enough though.



Moringa is actually not a plant that you'd "let go to seed" in that sense, in fact you'd probably end up waiting much longer for it to make pods.  I've heard that the way to get them to produce is just to abuse them, keep coppicing over and over, keep them in drought, etc. until the tree is so stressed that it finally decides it wants to reproduce.  They're very hard to kill in places like South FL where we don't get frost.  Unfortunately, you might not have a long enough season for them to reach that stage of pod production at all.  At first I wondered how Baker Creek could be producing seed in MO, but it looks like their seeds are imported from India.
 
Judith Browning
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Success!!!

I brought in three pots of Moringa last fall with three bushes each.
After cutting them back to a inch or so staub, I put them in the back room and quit watering.
The room was cold but mostly above freezing as our on demand water heater is back there and some nights we would use a small heater back there to keep pipes from freezing.

This spring I was cleaning that corner and decided to look at the roots...the stems felt solid and when I dumped the pots the roots were all completely solid and a nice white.  I wish I had taken a picture then.

So, I repotted them in some coir/perlite/wormcasting mix and waited for warm weather.
In the meantime I bought more seed because I was sure I would need to start new plants.

It looks like I have at least five plants coming back from the roots.   All of these photos were taken today...I uncovered the roots a little for the pictures.  

The photo with all of the pots is both moringa from seed and those that wintered over.  The seeded ones are definitely larger so it will be interesting to see if the others catch up....they seem to be at all different stages.  I had given up on some of the roots and just now found a couple small sprouts.

I'm trying to prune more aggressively this year in order to get more of a bush shape so the plants are looking sparse from that.

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Conner Murphy
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Nice!!  They are troopers.

Since my last post I have learned that they will produce pods on their own, in whatever condition.  But, there's not a specific season, they'll just flower somewhat sporadically. I have some with mature drying pods, smaller green ones, and flowers too.  And then some that are 15 feet tall and havent flowered yet.
Hopefully you get a lot of growth out of them so theyll have a chance to produce.
 
Judith Browning
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Conner, Have you been able to save viable seed from them?  I wonder if I could just stop pruning one and it might flower?

Now that it seems possible to winter over the roots I'm not so concerned with seed although I would like to see the flower and seed pod.

Are you harvesting lots to eat?  We love the fresh leaves chopped in all sorts of things.  I tried some commercial powdered stuff when we didn't have fresh leaves and we did not like the flavor at all.

 
Mark Brunnr
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Being a tropical plant, I doubt the seeds store well but I still have a few in the fridge I can test. I bought them last year but only used half, would be great if the remainder are still viable after 12 months stored at 35-40F.
 
Conner Murphy
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Judith Browning wrote:Conner, Have you been able to save viable seed from them?  I wonder if I could just stop pruning one and it might flower?

Now that it seems possible to winter over the roots I'm not so concerned with seed although I would like to see the flower and seed pod.

Are you harvesting lots to eat?  We love the fresh leaves chopped in all sorts of things.  I tried some commercial powdered stuff when we didn't have fresh leaves and we did not like the flavor at all.



I have.  You have to wait until the pods turn completely brown and dry out before harvesting the seed though.  You might not have a long enough season for that, but you could probably get them to flower.  I like the taste of the flowers - peppery like the leaves, but with a fruity overtone.

I do harvest leaves to eat fresh, they mostly end up in smoothies for me.  Whenever I have to cut one back a lot, I strip all the leaves, dehydrate them, powder, and store the powder in a jar in the freezer.  Much better than what you can purchase which is typically held at room temp and allowed to become rancid.  If you store it in the freezer, it keeps its fresh green color and flavor.

Mark Brunnr wrote:Being a tropical plant, I doubt the seeds store well but I still have a few in the fridge I can test. I bought them last year but only used half, would be great if the remainder are still viable after 12 months stored at 35-40F.



Let us know if they are viable after cold storage.  I have had no problem keeping dried seeds at room temp or hotter for many months.
 
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Deb Rebel wrote:Sounds like that would cover everything then, and see what works.

I tried a Chayote this year, it's a 150 day minimum zone 9b and though our fall is being late, no blooms at all. I built a fantastic trellis for it too, it did get itself up there, but didn't grow as well as I hoped.

So in the spirit of trying to push your grow zone limits, may you do well.



Chayote takes long time to produce fruit. But I grow it mostly for the leaves- they are soft no matter how large they get, taste very pleasantly for the dark green, and help to melt stones - gallstones and those of the kidney. But they need lots of space as they grow very vigorously once they start climbing.
 
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Judith, now you are inspiring me to try moringa again. I tried growing it in pot, but spider mites infected it early, and they neither grew nor died for a long time.
 
Judith Browning
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My moringa forest....
These plants are so prolific...I am harvesting leaves, stems every other day or so and they send up more quickly. It is our green of choice right out the back door now.  I've run out of rain water and have had to use aired out city water to water them though so we'll find out if that makes any difference.

I'm experimenting with one of the pots, three 'trees', by cutting them back to two inch stubs to see if I can get the bushiness that I expected with these since the seed packet called them 'bush' moringa.

Cheap, even if I had to rebuy the seed every year but I'm going to try to winter over they roots in the house again.

We love this plant
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Judith Browning
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Joy Oasis wrote:Judith, now you are inspiring me to try moringa again. I tried growing it in pot, but spider mites infected it early, and they neither grew nor died for a long time.



So far I haven't had any problems with any sort of insects.  Were you growing indoors? I've decided to just consider it a summer plant and work at storing the dormant roots over the winter in the house.

I did find that if I plant it too early in the pots outdoors the seed just does not germinate...they really need the heat.
 
Joy Oasis
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So my two moringas are couple of weeks old or maybe more since time goes so quickly. And so far they are growing well, but I am starting to see a few lighter spots, which might be a sign of spider mites. I hope not. I might try hydrogen peroxide spray, but not sure I can do it often as my garden is in the community garden plot away from home. I will try to remember to take a picture next time.
 
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